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Manny Wilkins’ growth has been key to Sun Devils’ surprising season

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
LISTEN: Manny Wilkins, ASU QB

What seemed destined to be a grim season has quickly turned into one with hope and optimism.

Arizona State has put together a couple of upsets against ranked opponents this season. One that was historical against then-ranked No. 5 Washington, the first top-five ranked win for the program since 1996, and another came three weeks prior against then-ranked No. 24 Oregon.

ASU quarterback Manny Wilkins is one of the biggest contributors to the surprising season. The junior passer is on pace to throw 3,394 yards and 16 touchdowns, all of which would be career highs.

The interceptions have come down as well, with only two midway through the season compared to nine all of last season. Wilkins’ completion percentage has also risen from 63.3 percent to 66.8 percent this season.

“I think that’s been the biggest key is trusting who is around me and trusting that those guys are going to make something special happen,” Wilkins said on 98.7 FM Arizona Sports Station’s Bickley and Marotta. “Because I know that they can and I have confidence that they will. That’s been a big difference this year.”

Last year, Wilkins had a handful of highlight plays when he ran outside the pocket or took the ball himself, but that led to him getting knocked around. The quarterback had to miss a few games last season because he was getting banged up, but this year there’s been less reckless play.

“Really I have grown more as a quarterback,” Wilkins said. “Like I said earlier I just learn to trust the people around me a lot more. It’s just a part of maturing as a quarterback. That’s been one of my goals is to just be a complete quarterback.

“Sit in the pocket, deliver the ball to playmakers and let them make something happen.”

Besides the improved efficiency from Wilkins this season, it has also been evident that he has taken on more of a leadership role with the team. The quarterback attributes it to his teammates, who have helped made his job easier.

“The big difference is collectively having guys around me that are very high spirited,” Wilkins said. “Guys that help me lead out there. I don’t want to say easy because none of this is easy. It makes it happen quicker and it makes it happen smoother.”

Overall, Wilkins has expressed his gratitude of playing with teammates that are buying into the coaches’ system. The quarterback enjoys playing with the team’s senior running backs Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard, and others.

“They take coaching a little bit differently than I think other guys have in the past,” Wilkins said. ” It’s made it so there’s no conflict between anybody. We’re kind of just trying to figure things out as we go, learn from mistakes that we make and grow from it day into day out.”

The defense, which has been a known issue for the team the last two seasons, was unrecognizable in their upset win last Saturday. Washington had never scored less than 30 points this season, but only managed a single touchdown and less than 250 yards of offense against the Sun Devils.

Wilkins saw the difference in focus for his defensive teammates that really speaks to the new culture that he is describing in Tempe.

“I watched them work their butts off for these past two weeks,” Wilkins said. “We had a bye week before the game. I watched them have a different look in their eyes coming into this game. They proved it and they wanted to be dominant and not let them score points. That’s exactly what they did.”

The Sun Devils are 3-3 (2-1) and with Wilkins’ improved play and leadership, the team now has some hope moving forward into the second half of the season.

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